By Dee Longfellow
For The Elmhurst Independent
You can almost feel a kind of positive energy when you walk into Livia Italian Eatery, the latest addition to the restaurant community in downtown Elmhurst, which recently opened at 116 E. Schiller.
All it takes is an introduction to Fred Schaller, the tireless owner, and manager of the new restaurant, to see where the positive energetic feeling comes from – it comes from him. Opening this new restaurant must have required him substantial research from observing the taste of people residing here to different safety measures like professional fire suppression installation that could keep the restaurant up and going preventing any fire accidents. When there is so much preparation in place, the energy in running the business tends to come naturally. Hang around Livia for a while and you’ll find that energy in the atmosphere, the décor, the staff from the kitchen to the bar to the wait staff, even in the food that is served. Maybe other restaurants can take inspiration here regarding the ambiance and apply it so as to give diners a pleasant experience. Small changes in appearance like lighting, re-designing the entrance signboard (if interested, look for firms that can design creative signs for restaurants), or even doing a fresh paint job on the interiors might make a difference.
The Independent was able to catch up with a very busy Schaller recently to talk about his new venture in Elmhurst and why he chose this community.
After owning restaurants in Geneva, Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, he had a chance to serve food for an event at the Elmhurst Art Museum and was very well-received.
“I’ve always wanted to be in Elmhurst,” Schaller said. “I was waiting for something to open up in downtown and here we are. Once we had the opportunity, we turned around the sale and build-out in 45 days, which is almost unheard of. Then we took two weeks to hire staff. We got together and trained everyone in one week and then we opened.
“It happened really fast, but that’s how I like to work.”
It’s apparent the staff at Livia not only knows their job but also knows the menu inside and out in order to answer any questions diners might have about meal preparation or ingredients.
“I am lucky to have a solid staff,” Schaller said. “As part of the training, the staff tasted everything on the menu. I want them to be able to talk to the customers about the dishes.”
Asked how business was on New Year’s Eve when the restaurant offered a special menu package, Schaller said it was very busy, full to the brim almost all night long. Other evenings are turning out to be busy as well.
“Actually, every weekend has been as busy as New Year’s Eve,” he said. “We’ve been here two months now and it feels like a lifetime – not that we’re not enjoying it! We already feel like a part of the community.” A restaurant owner’s dream may be to get success from the very beginning of their business. It might be essential, however, for owners to continually improve their customer service, upgrade business operations (by adding a restaurant automation service), and experiment with new menu items to maintain their successful run. It is likely that by taking such proactive measures, the owner can gain the upper hand when competing with the nearby restaurants.
Community involvement starts early
In December, before Livia Italian Eatery had even opened, Elmhurst City Centre held its first-ever Holiday Block Party. The outdoor event involved almost every business in the downtown area and Livia joined the party. They set up a fire pit outdoors, toasted marshmallows, brought out the chocolate bars and graham crackers and made S’mores. These were given away to people who walked by the new establishment during the Block Party.
About the menu selections
Schaller offered the Independent a broad array of samples to try, such as the Butternut Squash Tortellini small plate made of brown butter, butternut squash, sage, gorgonzola cheese and truffle oil; and, the Honey Ricotta small plate, with honeycomb, micro-basil, cranberry chutney and grilled toast.
The menu portion called “Greens and Grains” offers options like Livia’s own lobster bisque with sherry wine, chives, and jumbo lump crab. There are various salads including a Caesar salad, a Steakhouse Wedge and a Beet Salad made with roasted beets, arugula, oranges, fennel, goat cheese and citrus vinaigrette.
There are a variety of flatbreads available, such as the Farmers Wife, which is tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella, arugula, heirloom cherry tomato and lemon on flatbread. Others are Shrimp Creole, Sweet Onion and Bacon, Wild Mushroom and more.
There are too many entrees to list here, but that only reflects on the wide selection of steaks, chicken and fish available. Two specialties at Livia are the Hoisin Pork Chops and the New Zealand Lamb Chops. Every day diners will find different-flavored Risotto on the menu. Daily specials will be coming soon.
To top it all off, there are desserts including Ricotta Cheesecake, a Dark Chocolate Sundae, Apple Cinnamon Slab pie and Italian donuts fried on-site. The restaurant makes its own gelato and sorbet – burnt caramel is a favorite gelato flavor.
“Apparently we are priced properly because we’ve seen people coming in two or three times a week,” Schaller said. “I was surprised at how many families came in; we were short on highchairs at first, but we’re ready now. We have a kids’ menu and several kid-friendly options.”
Schaller is very interested in keeping the casual, inviting atmosphere of the surroundings inside and out. He likes the large windows at the front of the restaurant.
“I like people outside looking in,” he said. “I want people looking in the windows to see the atmosphere and know that this is the place to be.”